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Losing the Church Online Attendance Battle, but Winning the War

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I get it. I hear you. No one is watching your Church Online service.

We’re hearing it from all over. Churches have seen a drop in online attendance since Easter. Barna is affirming it. Even Carey Nieuwhof is talking about it. Attendance is down. Giving is down.

It’s very easy to blame COVID, even Church Online. If we really look at the trends, though, I think it’s fair to say that we were heading this direction even before COVID.

State of Church

The Value of Content

Our church services, whether physical or digital, are losing their effectiveness in reaching people. A simple challenge is that, whether physical or broadcast, we the church need to get beyond the idea of content. In 2020, mid-COVID, the value of content is non-existent. 

  • Netflix is $12.99/mo.
  • Hulu is $5.99/mo.
  • Disney+ is $6.99/mo.
  • Apple+ is $4.99/mo, with 12 months for free.
  • HBO+ is $15.99, or free with AT&T Mobile account.
  • Prime Video is free if you are an Amazon Prime member.

Truthfully, I’m not loyal to any of them. Okay, my kids would probably start a “Cancel Dad” campaign if I dropped Disney+, but I’m not loyal to content providers. My favorite show on Netflix is Stranger Things. It’s been 12 months since Stranger Things released a new season, and with it wanes my desire to watch anything on the Netflix platform. My family drops Hulu periodically for the same reason… content isn’t interesting to us. After an initially strong start, Prime Video is irrelevant to me. I get it essentially for free, but even the shows I’m passionate about watching (Jack Ryan, Homecoming, The Man in Highcastle) I haven’t watched newer seasons, because other content seems more interesting. Apple TV+ is probably one of the only services I don’t use in the Apple universe because the content I have seen bores me. As a consumer, I watch things worth consuming. I’m the judge, jury and literal executioner.

Losing the Content Battle...

Let’s talk practically here, and Pastor, I don’t mean to offend. There is a better preacher/communicator than you. There’s a better worship leader than you have. I guarantee someone is doing better video production. There’s always a better audio mix or a more creative service. In the world of excellence, the local church will lose the online content battle because there will always be someone better. At this point, consumers in your church (physical or online) will drift away from your church, because they’ll always go to better content to consume.

I have a friend in Miami who was active in a local church, but has started attending North Point Church in Atlanta digitally. His family has been waning interest in their local church that they attended for years. COVID has opened eyes that there are other options than local. If all we are measuring the church on is content, then convenience and quality will continue to win. Your church will increasingly lose that battle post-COVID. If church is only defined by is it’s content, does it really matter where we attend?

Church, you need to think differently.

...But Winning the War

Church, even in COVID we have to be more than content. When was the last time content made a difference in your life physically? What was the last show you watched any given night that changed the way you acted a month later? A week later? Or even the next day? Content alone is not the answer.

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone that brought you to tears? That led you to pray with them immediately? When is the last time you gave money to someone in need, sacrificially? When was the last time you were transparent with someone, who responded back with transparency? Jesus is pretty clear in Matthew 18: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” In modern language, Matthew 18 doesn’t challenge so much into Reach, as much as Engagement.

Pastor, content is not the answer, digitally or physically. Online Services are not the solution to the problem. Mile wide, inch deep won’t work post-COVID. I’m not sure it was really working pre-COVID. Build relationships with people. Know people by name. Listen to their story. Help them see God’s purpose for their lives. Engagement with vulnerability will go a long way post-COVID for the Kingdom.

Ali Roohi’s CenterSet Church is a great example of this. In a recent The Church Digital Podcast, Ali shares about how his church online attendance has dropped greatly, yet his small group attendance has tripled, and giving is up. Why did this happen? Listen to Ali’s words, directly.

 

Church, let’s win the war. Get people on-mission. Be more than content to them. Help them find God’s purpose in their lives. Get them off spiritual milk and get them on solid food. Activate them. Mobilize them. Release them. This is how the Kingdom wins. Not via content distributed to masses, but by conversations had where two or three are gathered… physically, or even digitally.

How many people attended your Online Service? Does it matter?

 

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From Band-Aids to Bridges: Developing a Long Term Covid-19 Discipleship Plan

About Author

Jeff Reed
Jeff Reed

With about 20 years experience serving the church in the digital/technological realm, Jeff loves working with churches. As passionate about Discipleship as he is Technology, Jeff uses his passion to help Churches develop technology systems to bring people far from God closer to him. Oh, and he loves Digital Church & Church Online.

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